Sunday, 7 November 2010


Went with Orode to the National last night to see the first preview of FELA!, the Broadway musical based on the life of Nigerian Afro beat pioneer and anti-corruption activist Fela Kuti. It's a great messy, joyous show that feels oddly situated in the Olivier, where there is hardly space to stand let alone dance between the lavender coloured rows - but is sure to be a great rolling hit over the next few months.

Set in 1978 at Fela's final concert at the infamous Shrine club in Lagos, the piece really celebrates Kuti as showman and draws attention to the political content of the music, telling a rough version of Nigeria's post-colonial history in the process.

There are some issues. Fela's personal life, his polygamy, his homophobia and eventual AIDS induced death are nodded at, rather than questioned and there is a clear sense that the Shrine we're presented with is somewhat sanitised for a New York audience, a kind of clumsy fusion of Yoruba attitude and Manhattan chic. More cocktails and polite applause than weed and whooped affirmation.

The high life horns and funky beats are infectious and irresistible, however, and the energy from the cast, particularly Sahr Ngaujah who brilliantly captures the charm and anger of Fela in a showstopping performance, makes you want the evening to go on forever. If the jukebox musical needed a shake up this show, which reminds us of a time when music formed the soundtrack for popular movements and uprisings, might just have the formula with which to do it.

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